Bipartisan alternative to online piracy bills

A bipartisan group of US House and Senate lawmakers has released a draft proposal to address their concerns over controversial House and Senate bills that would crack down on piracy and counterfeit products on foreign websites.

Their draft proposes an alternative to a Senate bill known as the Protect IP Act, authored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, introduced in the House last month by Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith. Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, one of the proposal’s authors, has been a vocal opponent of the Senate measure and has blocked the bill from moving to the Senate floor since it was approved by the Judiciary Committee in May.

Even though they agree on the need to curb online piracy and counterfeiting abroad, Wyden and several of the other lawmakers say Protect IP and SOPA would stifle free speech and innovation and undermine the integrity of the Internet.

Wyden claims the proposal he and the other lawmakers have crafted “is focusing to the extent possible on the payment processors, the advertisers, the follow-the-money approach”. This approach is in line with that suggested by technology firms and other critics, instead of trying to block access to websites that offer infringing content or goods. Wyden suggested that taking away the financial incentive goes a long way to dealing with the problem.

Protect IP and SOPA focus on trying to cut off funding to those sites as well, but they also would allow the Attorney General to seek a court order requiring US service providers to direct users away from websites deemed to be primarily focused on providing pirated content or counterfeit goods. Those bills also would put the Justice Department in charge of enforcing the bill’s provisions.

The proposal from Wyden and the other lawmakers would give that job to the International Trade Commission, which deals with imports alleged to infringe intellectual property. The proposal would allow intellectual property owners to appeal to the commission to investigate infringing sites. If the commission finds such sites are “primarily” and “wilfully” infringing US copyrights or wilfully enabling imports of counterfeit merchandise, the agency would issue a cease-and-desist order requiring US payment processors and advertisers to stop doing business with the sites.

“When infringement is addressed only from a narrow judicial perspective, important issues pertaining to cyber security and the promotion of online innovation, commerce and speech get neglected,” argues the draft proposal.

Wyden said the lawmakers will collect comments on the proposal over the next few weeks and will likely introduce it early in 2012.

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